Codeine is an opioid derived from the poppy plant, similar to morphine but with much less potency. This prescription medication is usually used as a pain reliever or to treat cough and is frequently combined with other medications. However, even when taken as directed, codeine may still lead to dependence. Depending on how much codeine you take, the drug can stay in your system for as little as hours or up to weeks. 

What Is Codeine?

Codeine is a prescription opioid pain reliever (analgesic) that is often combined with other medications to treat cough (antitussive). Codeine works for pain similarly to other opioids, like oxycodone, by changing how the brain responds to pain. Codeine is also used for cough because it decreases activity in the part of the brain responsible for coughing. Depending on what other medication codeine is combined with (or if it is the only active ingredient), it can be classified as a Schedule II, III, IV or V medication under the Controlled Substances Act.

How Long Does It Take To Feel the Effects of Codeine?

Codeine is available in several different formulations, including tablets, capsules and liquids, and is easily absorbed from the GI tract into the bloodstream. From there, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects the brain for pain and cough. After taking a dose of codeine, it can take up to an hour to feel its effects. 

Pain and cough relief is typically felt for about three or four hours. Codeine is commonly prescribed for use multiple times daily as a result.

Codeine Half-life

A medication’s half-life is the time it takes for the body to metabolize and exctrete half of one dose. Drugs with short half-lives are often taken multiple times daily, as with codeine. After codeine enters the bloodstream, it is broken down in the liver to its metabolites. These metabolites include codeine-6-glucuronide, norcodeine and morphine and are also active in the body. 

Codeine’s half-life is about three hours. However, many of codeine’s metabolites have longer half-lives and can continue to provide cough and pain relief, even after codeine is metabolized (for about six hours). 

What Does Codeine Show Up as on a Drug Test?

Many employers, courts and others conduct routine drug testing. Sometimes, these continue on a random basis. Most drug tests detect the presence of metabolites because of their long half-lives, which is also true in the case of codeine. Depending on the type of drug test being conducted, codeine can be detected in urine, blood, saliva and hair. However, because codeine is an opiate derived from the poppy plant, similar to morphine and heroin, some tests may not be sensitive enough to distinguish between these. 

False Positives for Codeine

There are reports of false positive results for opiates, like codeine, on drug tests. For example, because morphine and codeine are derived from the poppy plant, there are reports of poppy muffins or bagels resulting in false positives on drug screens. 

In addition, there are reports of false positives on enzyme-linked immunoassay (EIA) drug screens which report positives for a class of medication (opiates) rather than specific drugs (codeine). Other medications that can cause a false positive for opiates on this type of test include:

  • Verapamil: a prescription medicine used to treat high blood pressure 
  • Diphenhydramine: the active ingredient in Benadryl used OTC for allergies or to help sleep
  • Doxylamine: an OTC antihistamine often used for allergies or medications to help sleep
  • Dextromethorphan: an OTC medication used to treat cough

How Long Does Codeine Stay In Your System?

The time that codeine is detectable depends on the type of drug test. In addition, many factors can influence this length, including:

  • Dose
  • How long you have taken codeine
  • Age
  • Weight 
  • Liver and kidney function
  • Other medications taken with codeine
  • Genetics 

How Long Does Codeine Stay In Urine?

In urine, codeine and its metabolites are detected for one to three days. This type of drug testing is widespread because it does not require specialized medical equipment and is noninvasive. 

How Long Does Codeine Stay In Blood?

Codeine is detected for about two to four hours in blood. This timeframe is due to its short half-life, making this drug testing less common than urine. In addition, this type of drug test must occur in a medical facility, like a laboratory, and is more invasive and costly than some other drug tests. 

How Long Does Codeine Stay In Saliva?

Testing for codeine in saliva can be challenging because this testing depends on several factors, including the sensitivity of equipment used, the dose of codeine taken and variability between people. However, it has been reported that codeine is detected in saliva for approximately seven hours. 

How Long Does Codeine Stay In Hair?

After just one dose of codeine, it can be detected in hair for up to 10 weeks. This type of drug testing can demonstrate exposure to codeine but might not show current usage the way other types of drug testing can. 

How Long Does Tylenol With Codeine Stay In Your System?

Tylenol with codeine is a combination prescription medication and can have differing amounts of codeine depending on whether it is Tylenol #3 or Tylenol #4. Tylenol, or acetaminophen, is an over-the-counter (OTC) pain and fever reducer available alone or with many other prescriptions and OTC medications. Like codeine, acetaminophen is also metabolized by the liver. Tylenol has a half-life of approximately one to three hours. 

After taking Tylenol with codeine, codeine (and its metabolites) have a longer half-life and would remain in the system for about a day, whereas Tylenol would only stay in the body for nearly half that time. However, because the liver metabolizes both components of this medication, taking this combination would profoundly impact the metabolism of each if there were any underlying liver damage, and they could cause liver damage in the case of excessive use or overdose.  

Get Help With Codeine Addiction in Orlando, FL

If you or a loved one are struggling with codeine addiction, we can help. At Orlando Recovery Center, we offer a full continuum of addiction treatment programs, from medical detox and inpatient treatment to outpatient care and aftercare. 

Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide the guidance you need to begin your journey to a healthier life. We accept most types of insurance and private payment, and our thorough intake process will start with 72 hours of admittance. Contact us today to discuss your treatment options and get started.

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Editor – Theresa Valenzky
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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.